Friday, August 26, 2011

Hope Rises for Return of Heroes of Tripoli

Hope Rises for Return of Bodies of Heroes of Tripoli
By Carlos Sardella
New York Times December 21 1980


A GROUP of New Jerseyans who have been pressuring Washington officials, even the White House, for 18 months to have the bodies of early naval heroes returned from Libya and reinterred in Arlington National Cemetery have been give new hope, according to their most active spokesman.

The bodies are those of 13 men who took part in a United States Navy suicide mission against the Barbary pirates in 1804.

An Irvington insurance agency owner who is spearheading the campaign to bring the remains back says the new hope is centered on the Administration of President Ronald Reagan.

“We certainly have not done well with President Carter or, for that matter, Governor Byrne,” the insurance man, John P. LaCroix, said, “but we have reason to believe we will get some action in 1981.”

Still awaiting action, and supported by New Jersey Representatives, Senators, state legislators and a number of veterans organizations, is a bill introduced by Harold C. Hollenbeack, Republican of East Rutherford, calling for repatriation of the bodies by the Secretary of the Navy from five graves in Tripoli.

Now awaiting action by the Committee on Foreign Affairs and Veterans Affairs, the bill has become a rallying standard for the growing number of New Jersey citizens and national veterans organization leaders. Kenneth Greenberg, a spokesman for Representative Hollenbeck, agrees that some action is probably stirring with the pending change of administrations.

He also said there was growing hope that the repatriation action might be taken without the legislation, the result of “some kind of administration order.”

Mr. Greenberg said Mr. Hollenback’s office was informed by the State Department that there was no foreign policy objection to the bill – Libya is not considered a “friendly” nation – and that the State Department was prepared to “work with the Navy to seek arrangements with the Libyan Government for repatriation.” Further, he said, some information contacts were being made with the Libyan mission in Washington.

The 13 heroes of the Barbary pirate war – there are conflicting reports whether the graves contain the bodies of five or more of the seamen – engaged in what naval historians have called a “incredible mission of heroism.”

Commanded by Capt. Richard Somers, a native of Atlantic County’s Somers Point, which was founded by his grandfather, the men formed the crew of the U.S.S. Intrepid. Laden with dynamite, the craft was intended to become a floating torch to destroy as many enemy ships as possible in the crowded Tripoli harbor. But under cannon fire on Sept. 4, 1804, the Intrepid blew up and all hands were lost.

Just a few days before that, the Intrepid, commanded by Capt. Stephen Decatur, had ventured into Tripoli harbor at night on a successful mission to burn the U.S.S. Philadelphia, a frigate that had been seized by the pirates. A mixed crew, from the U.S.S. Nautilus, the U.S.S. Constitution and the Intrepid volunteered for the ill-starred mission that followed and, as far as is known, Captain Somers ws the only member of the group from New Jersey.

Beyond patriotism, Mr. LaCroix says, it is fear that the graves are being desecrated or are, at best, uncared for.

The attempt to repatriate the bodies began in New Jersey because Patricia Dougherty, a member of the Leonia Borough Council, discovered the cemetery, all but hidden in weeds, while vacationing with a writer friend, Melba Edmunds. They found markers placed on the graves in Tripoli and commemorated by the Navy in ceremonies in 1949.

The description of the site, carried in an American Legion magazine, attracted the attention of Joseph Balsamello, commander of the Leonia American Legion Post.

With hundreds of petitions in hand, he prevailed upon Representative Hollenbeck to introduce the bill. As part of a Memorial Day observance in Leonia, the 13 naval heroes were made honorary citizens of that Bergen Country community.

The Atlantic County Historical Society, based in Somers Point, is the latest organization to join in the effort. A resolution calling upon Representative William J. Hughes, Democrat of Ocean City, has been adopted, according to Mrs. Robert J. Baldwin, president of the society, whose archives contain mementoes and books about the Somers family.

Mr. LaCroix, a Korean veteran and a member of the Navy League, believes that bringing back the bodies will help revive “a suffering Navy tradition” and fit into a resurgence of patriotism.”

Representative Joseph G. Minish, Democrat of West Orange, has been pressing the Secretary of the Navy, W. Graham Clayton, Jr., to recommend immediate action without legislation. Senator Harrison A. Williams, Jr., Democrat of Bedminister, is urging Secretary of State Edmund S. Muskie to take action, “which is important to me, especially in view of the tense relations with Libya.”

Support of the action has been pouring in from many quarters.

Lieut. Gen. C. M. Talbott, chief of staff of the Military Order of the World War, added his endorsement. The American Legion, in its national convention in Boston last August, adopted a supportive resolution.

“We have come this far and we do not intend to let up,” Mr. LaCroix said.

Could U.S. sailors finally be returned home from Libya 200 YEARS after they died in 'To The Shores Of Tripoli' war?

13 sailors died in 1804 after explosives ship blew up

First Barbary War was started over piracy problems

Master Commandant Richard Somers among dead crew

Current uprising gives group chance to ask for return


Last updated at 4:07 PM on 23rd August 2011

They’ve been buried for more than 200 years around 5,000 miles away from home - but it could finally be time for 13 U.S. sailors to come back.

A veterans' group wants Congress to return the remains of the Americans buried in Libya after they died in 1804 during the First Barbary War.

The American Legion has been lobbying since the Libya uprising began six months ago for the crew, who died when their explosives ship blew up.

The crew was led by Master Commandant Richard Somers and Lieutenant Henry Wadsworth, whose nephew was poet Henry Wadsworth Longfellow.

‘It's the best chance we've had in a long time,’ Tim Tetz, of the American Legion, told the Huffington Post. ‘We've got a change of politics in Libya.

‘We've got family members who have stood up and said: “We want to have our family members brought home.”

‘We've got the will and might of America to say: “Let's respect those who fought our wars for us, and that includes all wars”.’

The phrase 'to the shores of Tripoli' in the official U.S. Marine Corps song has its origins in the First Barbary War, which ran from 1801 to 1805.

The American Legion secured the backing of House Intelligence Committee Chairman Mike Rogers, reported the Huffington Post.


U.S. President Thomas Jefferson ordered American Navy vessels to the Mediterranean Sea in 1801.

It followed regular raids against American ships by pirates from the Barbary states of Morocco, Algeria, Tunis, and Tripolitania.

American sailors were abducted and ransomed back before sustained action begun in 1803.

A U.S. victory came in 1805 and a peace treaty was drawn up.

It got an amendment to a House bill telling the Defense Secretary to ‘exhume and transfer the remains’ of some servicemen buried in Tripoli.

But the Senate has not followed suit - and the group is concerned that ex-serviceman Senator John McCain could get in the way.
‘He has expressed some concern that he doesn't want to see it pass, which is disconcerting to us, and we've tried to influence him,’ Mr Tetz said.

The U.S. Navy is also known to be opposed to the American Legion's desire for the bodies to be returned.

However an American Legion spokesman told the Huffington Post that it is unacceptable for the sailors to be buried in a ‘hostile land’.

‘It's the best chance we've had in a long time. We've got a change of politics in Libya'
Tim Tetz, the American Legion

He said some are buried under Green Square, where Colonel Gaddafi’s government has held protest rallies.

The resting place of others is a Protestant cemetery that he described as a 'shambles'.
‘So this is not the way to treat those who serve America,’ he said, adding that there is space for the bodies in Arlington National Cemetery, Virginia.

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